A Model Startup? - InformationWeek

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04:59 PM
Michele Warren
Michele Warren
50% A Model Startup?

In one brief video, a Flipo clock makes the living-space rounds, showcasing its simple design and ability to sit in four different positions on nightstands, kitchen counters, and even bathtub rims. In another, designer Daniel Michalik talks about his studio in Brooklyn, N.Y., the materials he uses, and the design process.

In one brief video, a Flipo clock makes the living-space rounds, showcasing its simple design and ability to sit in four different positions on nightstands, kitchen counters, and even bathtub rims. In another, designer Daniel Michalik talks about his studio in Brooklyn, N.Y., the materials he uses, and the design process.What I've described is a couple of YouTube "spots" put together by the folks at, a startup that sells designer furniture and home goods online. With a grand total of seven employees, StyleFactory has been in business for only about six months and has already grown its Facebook fan base to more than 4,000. (That represents growth of 50% in the past month alone.)

A "core" of three conceived the company and quickly recruited people from the design world. "All three of us come from an e-commerce background, and we needed to be more than just a few tech geeks trying to sell furniture," quips George Casey, chief marketing officer at StyleFactory. "We needed people who know furniture design--the lingo, the sourcing, the manufacturing processes."

This is how it works, plain and simple: 1) People submit their furniture designs. 2) Select designs are put up for voting by the user community. 3) team members choose the winning designs based on votes and user feedback. 4) Furniture production kicks into gear. The company seeks to sell furniture that's not only sleek and modern but also durable and eco-friendly.

So, why am I writing about a company that you probably haven't even heard of (yet)? Because I think members of the StyleFactory team are doing some smart/cool/innovative things that anyone interested in launching a business may want to note.

Finding a Niche. Rule No. 1 for starting a business is identifying a need or want. Sounds obvious, right? But how many people are out there wasting their energy, time, and creativity trying to drum up market demand for something that's too…well, esoteric? And what about the people working night and day to put a new spin on something old--something you or I could buy from any Tom, Dick, or Harriet? Sometimes that new twist does the trick, but more often than not, it falls short.

The founders of knew that finding the right ware to peddle was key. Two of them are from Germany. They noticed that modern furniture was much more popular in Europe than it is here in the United States. But when they did some digging around, they discovered something else: There's a huge online community of furniture design enthusiasts just waiting to be tapped. And so was born.

Running an Easy-to-Navigate Website. I'd like to think that, the website, is designed in homage to the products the company is selling: The emphasis is on simplicity, clean lines, and elegance. You won't find a lot of bells and whistles here; they're not needed. Information about the products, and the designers behind them, is easy to find. Voting for a product is a breeze too.

Emphasizing Social Networking. Here's where the rubber meets the road, right? What startup or small biz wouldn't benefit from some facetime at Facebook? "If you're trying to get your name in front of people at a reasonable cost, social media is the way to do it," says Casey. "Using newspapers or Google advertising can be very expensive." Right now, has one staff member devoted to maintaining the company's presence at Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. But plans to build a full-fledged team are in the works.

Capitalizing on Crowdsourcing. Admittedly, this wouldn't (and shouldn't) be at the crux of every business--it depends on what you're selling. But most companies could probably benefit from a selective "tapping of the collective conscious" now and then. Asking users and customers to put in their two cents about different aspects of your business is a great way to 1) generate ideas and 2) build a relationship with clients. (What better way to promote buy-in than to have customers come up with a name for your new product?)

Keeping an Eye out for Analytics. One thing on's to-do list is adding marketing support, and that would include hiring someone dedicated to collecting and analyzing data about the habits of visitors to the company's website. "How much time are people spending on the voting page, and does that amount of time affect whether or not a vote is cast?," queries Casey, citing an example of the kind of metrics will be looking at in the near future. "We want to get really granular with this." The goal of using analytics: To determine what's working and what's not at, and to make any necessary adjustments to the site or the business model.

Is your company using social media to drive business? Crowdsourcing? If not, are any of these items at least on your radar? They probably should be. In such a competitive market, why not use all the tools at your disposal?

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